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Arts & Entertainment, etc.

IndyFringe reviews 1

August 23, 2008
For the first night of this year's IndyFringe Theatre Festival (aka IndyFringe or Indy Fringe), I decided to select four showsthat looked to be among the most risk-taking. After all, what's a fringe without something out there on the fringe? (Skip to the end if you want to read the rave and bypass the rest.)

Looking for the fringiest fringe, it made sense to start with a female Hitler. Which turned out not to be such a great start. Because the play in question, "My Friend Hitler," isn't much of a play. Yes, turning the Fuehrer into a trouser role does allow for a kind of attention that a traditional male performance doesn't. But actress Zehra Fazal doesn't do anything particularly interesting or groundbreaking with the part. And, as written, there's a seemingly endless series of forced "Remember when you..." expositional monologues. Ten minutes in, I was watching my watch.

I didn't look at my watch during the next show, "Peace on Terror," but that's only because I knew it featured nine sketches and so could count down to when the torture would be over. I'm not talking about the torture on stage, which involved a woman pretending to urinate into the mouth of a political prisoner. I'm talking about the torture of sitting through this ill-rehearsed example of a playwright with nothing to say who insists, at length, on saying it over and over again. Sub-amateur directing, acting, and design contribute to make this not just the worst production I've seen in four years of IndyFringe, but one of the most pathetic theater productions I've seen in my life. Bloomington's Theatre of the People is the culprit.   

Things improved (how could they not?) with "Stripped," offered by Indiana-based Twilight Productions. I still don't recommend it--its excessive voiceover narration and derivative "Educating Rita"-meets-"Striptease" plotting gets in the way of some decent dialogue. There's also an interesting physically transformative performance from Amy Pettinella as a troubled girl who turns to stripping but she's in the wrong play. Does the writer really expect us to want her to end up with the English-teacher-turned-strip-club-owner?  It sure seems so, although he's written as a jerk.

My final show of the evening, "Assholes and Aureoles" was of another order altogether. With local actresses Diane Kondrat and Karen Irwin giving breathtakingly funny--verbally and physically--performances, the show already looks to be the breakout hit of the festival. I'm not going to say much else, because the less you know about the content of each of the short plays, the more fun you'll have. Suffice to say that it's outrageous in very smart ways and that the capacity crowd I saw it with was rolling with laughter even before a word was spoken. Our reaction built and built to a passionate standing ovation when the show was over. If comedy shows had encores, I'd still be at the theater.

Full disclosure: The writer of "A and A" is Eric Pfeffinger, who I've collaborated with on a novel and a pair of plays. Our writing relationship is based on brutal honesty and he fully understands that if I didn't think this show worked, I'd call it as I saw it.

So I'm calling it as I saw it. DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW. The only downside is that it raises the fringe bar almost impossibly high. In order to appreciate the shows I'll see for the rest of the fest, I'll have to remind myself that this is an anomaly, not the standard.
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